EDITOR'S NOTE: Unfortunately, the last few words of this review were cut off in the layout of the print version of the magazine. Read the FULL review here, including CM's conclusion: "Considering the sound and build-quality on offer, I think AURALiC’s Taurus MKII not only represents an impressive sonic and technical achievement, but also qualifies (dare I say it?) as a bit of a bargain. Enthusiastically recommended." Our apologies for the omission to AURALIC, our loyal readers, and to CM.
My first exposure to the Taurus MKII came at the 2013 Munich High-End Show, where the Hong Kong-based high-end audio firm AURALiC used its components to power both a pair of exotic YG Acoustics Sonja 1.2 loudspeakers and multiple sets of Audeze LCD-3 planar-magnetic headphones. In my view, both the YG speakers and the Audeze ’phones sounded exceptionally good with AURALiC equipment behind them, which led me to place the firm near the top of my “must-audition” list, starting with this review of the firm’s Taurus MKII balanced-output headphone amplifier/preamplifier ($1899).
Let me begin by supplying some company history. AURALiC was co-founded in 2008 by President and CEO Xuanqian Wang and his business partner Yuan Wang. Xuanqian Wang’s background includes formal training as both an electrical and audio recording engineer, plus talents developed over the years as an accomplished pianist. Yuan Wang, in turn, has a background in sociology and management science. The common denominator is that both founders share a deep abiding love of music and a passion for sound quality. Propitiously, the two met at a musical event, the 2008 Festival of Waldbühne Berlin, and decided to launch AURALiC not long thereafter.
What attracted me to AURALiC equipment was its sound quality, first and foremost, though I was also drawn by the components’ elegant industrial design and self-evident, German-camera-like build-quality. Sonically and visually, a certain graciousness and refinement set AURALiC components apart. In practice, I have found AURALiC equipment tends to sound highly resolving and detailed, yet consistently keeps its focus on the broader musical whole. There is, too, an element of naturalism at work in AURALiC gear—one which makes the equipment simultaneously easy to listen to, yet also invigorating to hear. As you might imagine, this finely judged mix of sonic virtues perfectly suits the Taurus MKII role as a powerplant meant for use with the finest top-tier headphones presently available.
The Taurus MKII is a fully balanced solid-state headphone amplifier/preamplifier that provides switch-selectable single-ended and balanced analog inputs, preamp outputs, and headphone outputs. At the heart of the Taurus MKII is a critically important, signature AURALiC design element: namely a set of the firm’s proprietary ORFEO Class A output modules. According to AURALiC the ORFEO modules use “a mass of small signal components with (the) best (possible) linear characteristics,” which are packed in a thermal compound and mounted within shielded containers. The ORFEO modules are said to achieve “impressive performance with open loop distortion less than 0.001%.”
Interestingly, Xuanqian Wang says the ORFEO modules were “inspired by (the) Neve 8078 analog console’s circuit design,” and that they share “the same warm and natural sound (of the) Neve 8078.” It is refreshing to find a relatively young designer who appreciates and has been influenced by the brilliant work done by the British recording console designer Rupert Neve (Neve’s consoles are prized for their transparency and innate musicality).
Another highlight of the Taurus MKII is its low-noise input buffer, which offers very high input impedance (100k ohms single-ended, or 200k ohms balanced) and yields an exceptionally low 0.8uV of noise. The Taurus MKII offers real-time switching between two output modes: STD mode, which is intended primarily for applications where single-ended outputs are desired, or BAL mode, which is intended specifically and exclusively for balanced output operation. Power output is generous, ranging from 250mW @ 600 ohms (BAL mode) on up to 4500mW @ 120 ohms (STD mode). The Taurus MKII is suitable for use with headphones with rated impedances of 32–600 ohms.